I had many frustrating bread-making sessions before I consistently got “good” bread. It’s so much trial and error. Everyone told me it just takes practice, but I wanted instant success. I’ve been making bread for our family now for 4 years and feel like I have learned a lot of “secrets” for better bread.
Many people swear by vital wheat gluten. I never found it to help my bread at all. I mean, absolutely NO difference. But, so many people have, that it must just depend on the recipe or kitchen environment. I found that lecithin granules made a big difference in the texture, but only have used it for a few months. The bread is fine without it, but FANTASTIC with it. Here’s the recipe we almost always use around here….with notes to help.
2 cups warm water
2 cups flour (fresh-ground hard white wheat is my favorite!)
1 1/2 TBSP yeast
If you use a metal bowl, rinse with hot water so the bowl is nice and warm. Mix ingredients in bowl and cover with a towel. Let sit for 15-30 minutes. At the end of that time, it should be bubbly.
1/4 cup butter or oil
1/3 cup honey, molasses or a mix of honey and molasses
1/2 TBSP (1 1/2 tsp.) salt
optional, 1 TBSP lecithin granules OR if you want, whatever amount of vital wheat gluten your sources recommend
2 more cups of flour
Mix well. Now, you need to add up to 2 (possibly even a bit more, but I never use more than 2 extra cups) cups of flour until it’s kneadable. Knead for 10 minutes in a kitchen aid or Cooks heavy-duty mixer (approx. 15-20 minutes if hand kneading). A big mistake is adding too much flour. If using a mixer, it can be stickier than if you hand-knead. If the dough slides/falls off the hook when you lift it out, it probably needs more flour. If it sloooowwwwly begins to slide, it’s probably ok. Use oil on your hands when handling it to keep it from sticking.
Put in oiled bowl in a warm place and let rise for 30-45 minutes.
Remove from bowl and divide into two equal pieces. Form into loaves or rolls. Or, for cinnamon bread, press out the dough flat, drizzle with honey and cinnamon, and then roll (tightly…. it’s easy to get air pockets!) into a log and tuck ends under.
Let rise in oven for ONLY 30 minutes (you don’t want them to over-rise…. they will fall!).
Then take towel off and (don’t take the bread out while the oven preheats), turn the oven on 350* and set timer for 25 minutes. Check at 25 minutes and see if they look ready. May need 5 minutes more.
Let sit in pan on cooling rack for about 5 minutes, then remove from pans and let cool. If desired, brush with butter or oil.
Allow to cool (if you can) before slicing. We can never wait that long, so our first loaf gets a bit mushed from cutting it too soon!